2022 Edition: A Standard Definition Headend?

About six months ago, I wrote a story about standard-definition headends. (It’s still available if you’re curious.) In it, I explained the difference between SD and HD headends, laid out why you might want a standard-definition-only headend, and said that we support whatever you choose.

I stand by that article. But here I am not that much later, and I’m about to give you the opposite advice. So what gives, Stuart? What’s the deal? How can anyone trust me if I give conflicting advice like this?

For now at least, think high definition

If you’re thinking about a new headend system, high definition is the way to go. Remember that you don’t actually need to use an HD headend for HD signals if you don’t want to. It’s just HD-capable. And I’m about to tell you why it’s the smart move right now.

Don’t blame me, blame 2022

Hey, remember when the world we lived in made sense? OK, this isn’t that sort of blog. We don’t talk about politics or world events. But even this blog isn’t immune (pun intended) from the effects of the pandemic on every aspect of our lives. We may not want to talk about it, but it’s here and it won’t be ignored.

One big impact we’ve seen in the last two years is a major interruption in our global supply chain. It’s the reason you couldn’t get toilet paper, a PS5, or a new car when you wanted one. Simply put, there aren’t enough people in enough factories to meet global demand for the things we want. When we can produce enough of something, it sometimes takes months to transport it to us. And when we do finally get it to the US, it may take extra time for people here to work on it.

Eventually this will all get sorted out. Just like shelves finally filled up with enough Charmin, we’ll see enough chips and enough circuit boards being produced in order to meet global demand. But we’re told it’s going to take time. If you’re shopping for a headend now, you may not have time.

Cost benefit? What cost benefit?

Generally speaking, standard-definition headends have been cheaper than high definition ones. It makes sense. The technology is older, it’s more mature, the chips should cost less. But because of the shortage right now, a lot of those chips aren’t being made. That makes them scarce. Scarcity drives up prices.

As I’m writing this, there’s very little difference in price between a standard definition headend and a high definition one. That may never change. 15 years ago there was a massive difference in price between SD studio equipment and HD equipment. HD equipment dropped in price and demand for SD equipment went away. Today you really can’t buy SD studio equipment, and the HD equipment costs less than ever. It’s very possible we’ll see the same thing happen with headends in the future.

The HDCP problem

Another reason that people choose standard definition equipment is that high definition signals are often encrypted. Most satellite and cable receivers (not just those from your particular pay-TV company) use encryption. They’re forced to by the content providers they use. Streaming boxes use it too. It’s hard to get past.

High definition headend equipment does not always work with encrypted signals. This creates problems that are practically impossible to solve.

Luckily there are options. Several cable companies offer commercial-only receivers that don’t use encryption. DIRECTV’s receivers can be used with some headend systems regardless of encryption, using special cables. The key is working with experts like Signal Connect to get connected the right way

In 2022, choose HD

If you’re looking at a headend system, there’s no reason to go SD. It may slow your order down and it’s not likely to cost less. You can get the perfect headend system when you work with Signal Connect.

You haven’t heard of Signal Connect? They’re the commercial arm of Signal Group, the parent company of Solid Signal. With over 20 years of experience in commercial installations, they know how to do headends right. Signal Connect’s technicians will help you get everything you need. They’ll ask the right questions and get you a custom quote based on what’s best for you today.

The world’s always changing, but you can count on Signal Connect to be there for you year after year! It starts with a call to 888-233-7563. You’ll connect with an expert who will give you white-glove service. We do it all from system design to installation and maintenance. We’re here to serve, so why not give us a try? There’s no cost and no obligation.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.